Monday, June 01, 2009

All's well that ends well?

As I've been learning more about Catholic philosophy, I've learned it is often at odds with the philosophy of ordinary citizens. One area of difference is the distinction between means and end. In Catholic moral philosophy, I find the means is often the most important consideration in a moral dilemma. This will determine if an act is right or wrong. However, many ordinary people believe the end is what determines the morality of an act. This causes much conflict when discussing moral issues.

The number of areas to which this can apply are vast, so I will have to limit my examples to a few.

Test tube babies are a good example of this. In Catholic moral thinking, it is immoral to purposely and radically alter God's plan for sexuality. We believe God created sex and did so in a certain way. Sex is reserved for marriage and has as its primary purpose procreation. But this primary purpose cannot be disassociated from its secondary purpose of union between spouses. If either of these elements is missing, the act of sex is immoral. This type of union is only appropriate in the context of marriage, as of course procreation is. Catholics believe children have the right to be born in the loving embrace of their parents in the marital act. This is how God created conception. A purposeful rejection of this plan would be to take sperm and egg through an artificial manner and fuse the two together in a test tube. This violates God's plan for unity between the spouses and also takes away a child's right to be born in the loving embrace of his or her parents. On top of all this, in vitro fertilization methods are notorious for the destruction of embryos, many of them. Even on a scientific level, I have issues with this. Think about it. We've all read in science books or seen science videos showing the act of procreation between a couple. In it we see hundreds of millions of sperm vying for a chance to fertilize the egg. I do not believe this is a coincidence. Rather, I believe God has created it this way so that the strongest, healthy sperm will give its DNA to the egg. It's a natural way to ensure the healthiest baby.

Because of the reasons listed above, the Catholic Church teaches that in-vitro fertilization is immoral. Now, just say a couple ignores the Catholic Church on this issue either out of ignorance or they do not assent to the teaching, and they go to receive in vitro fertilization from a facility. A baby is conceived and 9 months later, born. Is this child illegitimate or evil or immoral? No. The baby is as innocent as any other baby born in any other way. The baby is a child of God with a rational soul. The baby is the end.

An act is immoral regardless of whether or not the end is good or bad. Many people cannot understand this from the example above. I heard Catholic Answers Live one day and Karl Keating, the president, was on a program speaking about this. He said a good way to look at this situation is to ask, if the husband raped a woman and she got pregnant and eventually bore a child, and the husband and wife reconciled and decided to raise that child, would the child be immoral, bad, or evil? Of course the child would not be any of those. But that would not make the act of raping someone, especially someone you are not married to, a good action. In other words, the end would not justify the means. But the end itself would not be wrong.

Another example of the opposite would be someone gives a poor family a loaf of bread to eat. The family eats the bread but they all become gravely ill because there was a bacteria in the bread, unbeknowst to the giver. This actions would still be morally good on the part of giver, even though the end was that the family became ill. The means justified the end. The end of course is not good, and in an objective sense it is evil, but the giver is free from any sin whatsoever, so subjectively it is not sinful.

Most people nowadays seem to have to equation mixed up. They believe if something good comes out of something, then it is morally good, regardless of what went into it. For example, they may say it would be ok to kill 1,000 people if that meant you could save the lives of 12,000 people. Or they might say any act which brings about the birth of a child is acceptable because of the result of the action. Once on the news, I saw a story about a strip club that was going to donate part of its “revenue” to charity. This would contravene Catholic moral thinking. They are performing an evil act (stripping) in order to bring about a good outcome (giving money to the poor). This is never allowed because you are still doing evil.

Unfortunately, the mentality that the end justifies the means has become very commonplace. If you look at many of the moral ills in our day, they are the result of this way of thinking. Think about it.

Abortion advocates say an evil act (abortion) will bring about good results (a mother who is not financially burdened, a child who is not “wanted” is not born, a mother saves herself from embarrasment, etc.)

Those who advocate embryonic stem cell research say, we can kill one young human with the result that others will be saved (which they haven't been so far).

Those who say contraception is alright because even though it's evil, it allows something which is good, i.e. That only parents who are “ready” will have children.

In all of these examples, an evil is permitted so that good may come of it. But think about it, what's the point of good coming from something if evil is automatically a part of the whole process. For example, cloning will ALWAYS involve evil, no matter how much good comes of it. Shouldn't we strive for win-win situations, rather than inherently lose-win situations?
I believe it's like Pope John Paul II once said, “When asked to choose between two evils, choose neither.” People sometimes say this is impossible, but many times, people have simply not even attempted this situation. They embrace an evil act in order to produce “good” so often, they start developing a whole thought-process which justifies the evil act so that eventually people start to believe an evil act is actually good. This is the case with contraception for example. No Christian Church had ever accepted contraception because it is morally wrong. Then in 1930, the Anglican Lambert Conference said couples could use contraception in grave situations. It wasn't long before couples started using contraception for any reason whatsoever. Now, among Protestant groups and almost all other people, contraception is not seen as an evil at all, but as an amazing good. Unfortunately the evidence has not shown this. Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae made many predictions about what would happen if contraception became widespread, include objectification of women, infidelity, and other lessenings of morality. Could he be more right?

Stand on firm moral ground and realize that the end doesn't justify the means. The means itself must be morally sound or else the entire action is immoral.

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